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  • Behind The Code: Stefan Esser - i0n1c


    In light of summer and all the chaos it brings, ModMyi has the pleasure of featuring another exclusive article for Behind The Code. Many great developers have been featured so far and the trend continues. For articles on those who have been featured already, click below:

    Dan Zimmerman (@DanZimm)
    Grant Paul (@chpwn
    Christian Heusinger (@iRealSMS)
    Elias Limneos (@limneos)
    Luke (@qwertyoruiop)

    One key component to note is that developers / hackers are generally extremely busy. They have much work to do in regards to keeping our jailbreak community vibrant and pursuing their own personal endeavors. Taking time out of their schedule is difficult so their efforts to answer questions, undertake interviews, and the like is beyond appreciated. With this said, Behind The Code and the information it brings will continue despite whatever time, schedule, and communication constraints come about.

    It is with great pleasure to have with us today Stefan Esser (@i0n1c), commonly known as i0n1c. He is must well known for his work on the untethered exploit for 4.3+ firmwares. Not much else is known about him so the dialogue below gives a true look into Stefan's involvement and future pursuits. You will be truly surprised how knowledgeable he is and the insight he brings to the jailbreaking scene.

    ==============================================

    JOSH: Tell us a little about yourself; age, occupation, location, and any other information you wish to share (if applicable).
    STEFAN: I am 32 years old and live in Cologne; the 4th biggest city in Germany. I have been working in information security since 1998. In 2007, I co-founded SektionEins (a German company specialised in (web-)application security). From July 1st of this year, I took a time out from full-time consulting work for SektionEins and now I work on own research projects.

    JOSH: When did you first start learning how to code? What languages are you proficient in and is there a particular language or languages that you code in the most?
    STEFAN: I got my first PC at Christmas when I was 8 years old. My parents gave me a PC instead of an AMIGA because they wanted me to actually use the computer and not play games. The PC came with its own dialect of Basic and I learned to code simple things. However, one of my neighbour kids who was way older than me, told me about this wonderful Pascal language so I learned it and coded in it for many years. At the same time I also learned x86 assembly language because I loved to do low level programming. But then I learned that Pascal isn't cool anymore and that C is the real deal. So I started to program in C.

    Over the years, I added a bunch of other languages like Logo, Java, Prolog, PHP, C#, Python and nowadays ARM assembly language. In Objective-C, I consider myself an absolute beginner. There are other languages I can read like Ruby and most of the Microsoft inventions but I only read them and never use them for my own code.


    JOSH: You're generally referred to by your alias i0n1c. How'd you come up with that name?
    STEFAN: Actually people know me by many nicks. Since joining the internet, I have tried out a bunch of scenes. The choice i0n1c was just a coincidence. Many years ago I wanted to get into IRC with my previous nick and it was already taken. So I choose the first word that came to my mind. This was ionic because there was a bottle of deodorant on my desk and its flavour was called ionic.

    JOSH: How long have you been in the jailbreak community? What got you first involved?
    STEFAN: I don't know if I really consider myself to be in the jailbreak community. I am an information security professional and iPhone and iOS security was just an interesting topic for me. When I first had contact with iOS security, I realized that the lack of ASLR was a major security problem and challenged myself to add ASLR to iOS on jailbroken iPhones. I managed to do that and presented about it at information security conferences. I demonstrated on stage that it was real and working but then I never released it to the public because I was working on other things and Apple decided to add ASLR to their phone themselves. In theory, combining my Antid0te and Apple's own ASLR would be a way better security shield but Apple broke some stuff in iOS 4.3 so that it is no longer possible to just switch the library cache at runtime. However, a lot of media sites got it wrong and believed that ASLR would put an end to jailbreaking, which is not true. It seemed the jailbreaking scene was troubled and divided by this whole ASLR thing and then Apple also killed a shortcut in 4.2.1 that made developing an untether exploit a lot harder. Basically they removed write access to some runtime configuration flag that enables or disables co-designing. Because I had some kernel bugs that were only useable for untethers, I just decided to donate them to the cause and wrote that complicated exploit.

    JOSH: People know you most commonly by the fact that you discovered and exploited 4.3+ to allow an untethered jailbreak. Was this discovery in a collaboration with any of the teams (iPhone Dev-Team or Chronic Dev-Team) or was this strictly on your own? Upon discovering this exploit, how long did it take you to formulate it into a workable jailbreak exploit?
    STEFAN: I am not involved with any of the jailbreaking teams except for the fact that I got some support from the iPhone Dev-Team in form of an expert version of redsn0w. This version allowed me to boot arbitrary kernels and add boot arguments. But over the time I convinced them to put these expert features back into the public redsn0w. Therefore, the only big difference between the non-public redsn0w and the public one is that it is comes with a command line interface only, which is better while developing exploits. The iPhone Dev-Team also beta tested the untether exploit and comex (@comex) had made all his kernel patches public at that time. But aside from that, there was no involvement in discovery and exploitation.

    I found the bug before iOS 4.3 was made available, writing the actual exploit was done in a few days. Therefore the exploit was working way before iOS 4.3 was released. However when iOS 4.3 betas came out people announced the presence of ASLR and that some trick everyone used before 4.3 did not work anymore. That was bad because it broke my exploit completely. I had to rewrite the whole exploit as ROP payload. This means you cannot bring in your own code but have to search the iOS libraries for small code snippset and then combine them to do what you want to do. To re-write complicated exploits this way is a time consuming process and therefore required about a week to get it stable.


    JOSH: Upon discovering that your exploit was blocked in iOS 5, has this encouraged you to find another hole to exploit for future iOS 5 users? Are you currently working on projects in relation to exploits or components of that nature?
    STEFAN: I have been researching iOS kernel security for several months now. I talk about finding bugs in the iOS kernel and how to exploit them at international security conferences. I would be a fraud if I did not have knowledge of a number of bugs by now.

    JOSH: For quite sometime, people believed that you were working on an iPad 2 jailbreak known as elevat0r. Although you unconfirmed your part in the iPad 2 jailbreak, was there ever a time that you contemplated giving it a shot? Tell us a little about elevat0r; how the rumor and story got started and what it has become now (the website).
    STEFAN: The iPad 2 jailbreak rumour was created at the time of SyScan Singapore. @msuiche and I were tweating about having discussed iPad 2 jailbreaking over dinner. Actually we had discussed it, but our discussion was more about me explaning to him what is required/missing to do an iPad 2 jailbreak. Anyway, people started bugging me and and him on Twitter for an ETA. So he said something about it will be done soon.

    A few weeks later, I was tweeting about a broken elevator in my home and someone replied. "OMG the new iPad2 Jailbreak is called elevator". This was enough for a bunch of news sites in the jailbreak community to claim that there is an iPhone jailbreak comming soon called elevator. My friends and I were very amused about the jailbreak community considering every single of my tweets an information source for the next jailbreak. So we had a lot of fun tweeting about elevators, stairs, repairs, elevator parties, etc.. And people did not even get it when I repeatedly denied working on an iPad jailbreak and showed pictures of the real elevator. This whole thing was really funny because it divided my Twitter followers; those who still did not get it and those that enjoyed every single elevator tweet.

    At some point I thought it would be a nice experiment to see how many of my followers are actually cool and so I created the website elevat0r.com and asked them to send me pictures of elevators and waiting iPads. Meanwhile I got about 150 submissions, but I had to remove some of them because they did not show elevators but stairs, etc.. Because I love to give back, I decided to give out a free AppleTV to one of the guys who sent in an elevator picture. I will choose a winner by random the second week of this upcoming August.

    However, I never worked on an iPad 2 jailbreak because this one was already covered by comex. I never saw a need of a new jailbreak. I don't play exploit race games because they lead to nothing else than useless fights. I also do not care about being the first to release a solution. I only care about a solution existing and it is okay with me if I am the only one having access to that solution. The upside of this is also that Apple doesn't know about it and cannot fix it :P


    JOSH: Other then exploit and hardware related implementations for iOS, have you created any Cydia tweaks or AppStore applications. If not, are you working on anything of this nature now or in the future?
    STEFAN: I will start working on a simple application for information security professionals that will allow them to configure the kernel patches used in the untether soon. The idea behind this is that a lot of people doing hardcore iPhone security research realized that their exploits behave very differently on jailbroken phones. The reason for this is that the jailbreak disables a bunch of protections and also overrides the sandbox. My tool will allow to specify what protections you want disabled/enabled on next boot. It has to be ready before the end of July.

    JOSH: How do you see the jailbreak community unfolding in the future. What potential do you see the jailbreak community having as iOS continues to evolve?
    STEFAN: I guess the jailbreak community might kill itself very soon. It is swamped by supposedly 12 year olds that only want to jailbreak to install pirated software and heavily insult everyone involved in making jailbreaks. And now these people already started hacking developer systems in order to steal jailbreaks. Comex and other keyplayers will soon get so tired of the iPhone jailbreaking scene that they will move to another target. I guess it just depends on the availability and coolness of the next closed system that comes around.

    Follow Stefan (@i0n1c) on Twitter for more information about what he has in store for the jailbreak community and other emerging advances.

    Source(s): Stefan Esser (@i0n1c)
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Behind The Code: Stefan Esser - i0n1c started by Joshua Tucker View original post
    Comments 21 Comments
    1. Simon's Avatar
      Simon -
      Another great interview Josh. Keep up the good work
    1. Joshua Tucker's Avatar
      Joshua Tucker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Simon View Post
      Another great interview Josh. Keep up the good work
      All thanks to Stefan. It was an honor.
    1. Mr. Russian's Avatar
      Mr. Russian -
      Now I know who he really is and what he does. Good job. I was always curious.
    1. korbyn8495's Avatar
      korbyn8495 -
      The last question was the best one... Very interesting.
    1. Cowboy's Avatar
      Cowboy -
      Great interview josh its great for the community to see the inside of who develops and makes the community what it is
    1. Sem656's Avatar
      Sem656 -
      Idk if you guys follow him on twitter but I didn't read the post because all he talks about is elevators for some reason. It's stupid that's not why I followed him
    1. Sibon6's Avatar
      Sibon6 -
      Well y don't u try reading it to find out his reasons for that... God some ppl take things way too serious and so what if his Twitter mostly contains some useless stuff to the iOS jailbreak scene he works on loads of stuff and he is a very talented guy and without ppl like ionic we wouldn't be as advanced as we r with untethers ect do me a favour and read the article...
    1. staterunner180's Avatar
      staterunner180 -
      @Sem656 then unfollow him. I'm sure he's very sorry his tweets aren't what you wanted them to be.
    1. mmaboi21's Avatar
      mmaboi21 -
      Great interview Josh. Esser is a very talented being for sure. Very knowledgeable and probably my favorite interview next to chpwn. thanks bro keep it up.
    1. Joshua Tucker's Avatar
      Joshua Tucker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Cowboy View Post
      Great interview josh its great for the community to see the inside of who develops and makes the community what it is
      Definitely; I think bridging the gap between developers and users is key the future success in the jailbreak community.

      Quote Originally Posted by mmaboi21 View Post
      Great interview Josh. Esser is a very talented being for sure. Very knowledgeable and probably my favorite interview next to chpwn. thanks bro keep it up.
      I think he is an extremely talented individual also. It was an honor to get to know him and if anything, all the thanks goes to Stefan.
    1. mmaboi21's Avatar
      mmaboi21 -
      Just to add to my comment I totally agree with esser about the jb community. So many times when I tell people about jailbreaking and if they know what it is;their first reply is,"ohh yeah when you get free apps." Too many people have been uneducated about what jailbreaking truly is. We need to come back to what jailbreaking truly is or we will lose the well known devs appreciation and the developers that develop great programs to use.

      Quote Originally Posted by Joshua Tucker View Post
      I think he is an extremely talented individual also. It was an honor to get to know him and if anything, all the thanks go to Stefan.
      Agreed but you put this together; both peices to the puzzle make for a great fit. So thanks to both of y'all.
    1. Jahooba's Avatar
      Jahooba -
      Heh, he's very right about the jailbreak community: it's mostly little kids, unfortunately. The wise, older people simply search for their answers, find what they want, then leave.

      It has to do with a different culture. When I was in high school no one owned a cell phone. I'm not even that old! I'm only 30 (and I feel like I'm 25).

      So, back 'in the day' we actually wrote lengthy emails to one another that had a beginning, middle, and end. I'm not even sure kids learn how to write letters anymore.

      Now we have texts, instant messenger, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter - all meant to be instant, lowest-form-of-communication gratification. It's an up-to-the minute account of whatever stupid-*** thought they had at that moment. As we all know, life is a little more complex than one moment. One moment isn't even an interesting thing - it's so fleeting and boring. What is interesting is opinion: it's how people feel and react to one another. Giving a one-word answer is never an acceptable reaction.

      When I heard that Twitter only allowed 140 characters I was nearly insulted. That's like telling an artist he can only use one crayon, and that crayon must be bright pink, and they must only write on a 2x2 inch piece of paper.

      I'm not saying I'm above it or anything, but the culture of communication has changed drastically since I was young. Now we have an army of teenagers that owned cell phones when they were 12, and they're simply used to putting themselves (their voice, as it were) out on the internet as casually as can be. This is why the jailbreak dev team gets flooded with crap comments all day long. It's just something that young kids do.

      Ionic is my age, and I know he's probably as tired of internet memes and the hive-mind that seems to be prevalent on the internet - but I hope he's wrong about the Dev Team. I hope they don't get tired of jailbreaking. The great thing about Apple devices is that it's more than just technology - it's a lifestyle. We're finally living in that weird/ cool future world we dreamed about as kids - we finally have a little personal computer we carry with us that connects us to the rest of the world - and so quickly and fluidly. Sure there's room for improvement as always, but Apple seems to understand that there needs to be a cohesive language between our large computers at home and the ones that we bring with us. The power of iOS is it's unification between devices. We'll see this even more with iOS 5. I don't particularly like Apple or it's bubbly image, but I heartily agree with their vision of the future in regards to the augmenting of reality with gadgetry.

      I hope the Dev Team realizes this as well, and weathers the storm of ignorance as a benefit to those that push Apple in new directions. It's no mystery that jailbreak devs have influenced Apple, and really let's face it: Apple's the only one on the block worth being a part of. The quality of their hardware is phenomenal - the only thing wrong with it is that we want evolve faster than Apple is able to. I want my device to look like it's from the year 2055, but I'm not going to wait that long for Apple! The only way for that to be possible is if I jailbreak it. Sure, members of the Dev Team will come and go, but they'll always be around in one form or another. The demand is just too great.
    1. cygerhog's Avatar
      cygerhog -
      Thank you Thank you thank you.
    1. DuRoLuRo's Avatar
      DuRoLuRo -
      I can pretty much agree with most things iOn1c said in this interview, but I think his last comment was a bit off. It might be because of some frustration he has with the jailbreak community these days, but my experience with communities like this one is pretty much that it will survive.
      Yes it might look as though the jailbreak community is on the verge of killing itself, because a lot of people are fed up with all the crap. At some point we might see virtually every prominent iPhone jailbreak developer leave, and as a result the scene will quiet down for a few months. It could be as long as 6 months of just rumors of this and that, but in the end, a bunch of new developers and fresh faces will pick up the torch, and carry on.

      The community will keep living and breathing, and we will see lots of new stuff coming out again. Some of the developers who left may even come back once the dust has settled. Some might pick up right where they left off, and some will simply come back under a different alias.
      I don't think doom is coming, especially not when new and interesting products will continue to come out on a regular basis from Apple
    1. Joshua Tucker's Avatar
      Joshua Tucker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jahooba View Post
      Heh, he's very right about the jailbreak community: it's mostly little kids, unfortunately. The wise, older people simply search for their answers, find what they want, then leave.

      It has to do with a different culture. When I was in high school no one owned a cell phone. I'm not even that old! I'm only 30 (and I feel like I'm 25).

      So, back 'in the day' we actually wrote lengthy emails to one another that had a beginning, middle, and end. I'm not even sure kids learn how to write letters anymore.

      Now we have texts, instant messenger, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter - all meant to be instant, lowest-form-of-communication gratification. It's an up-to-the minute account of whatever stupid-*** thought they had at that moment. As we all know, life is a little more complex than one moment. One moment isn't even an interesting thing - it's so fleeting and boring. What is interesting is opinion: it's how people feel and react to one another. Giving a one-word answer is never an acceptable reaction.

      When I heard that Twitter only allowed 140 characters I was nearly insulted. That's like telling an artist he can only use one crayon, and that crayon must be bright pink, and they must only write on a 2x2 inch piece of paper.

      I'm not saying I'm above it or anything, but the culture of communication has changed drastically since I was young. Now we have an army of teenagers that owned cell phones when they were 12, and they're simply used to putting themselves (their voice, as it were) out on the internet as casually as can be. This is why the jailbreak dev team gets flooded with crap comments all day long. It's just something that young kids do.

      Ionic is my age, and I know he's probably as tired of internet memes and the hive-mind that seems to be prevalent on the internet - but I hope he's wrong about the Dev Team. I hope they don't get tired of jailbreaking. The great thing about Apple devices is that it's more than just technology - it's a lifestyle. We're finally living in that weird/ cool future world we dreamed about as kids - we finally have a little personal computer we carry with us that connects us to the rest of the world - and so quickly and fluidly. Sure there's room for improvement as always, but Apple seems to understand that there needs to be a cohesive language between our large computers at home and the ones that we bring with us. The power of iOS is it's unification between devices. We'll see this even more with iOS 5. I don't particularly like Apple or it's bubbly image, but I heartily agree with their vision of the future in regards to the augmenting of reality with gadgetry.

      I hope the Dev Team realizes this as well, and weathers the storm of ignorance as a benefit to those that push Apple in new directions. It's no mystery that jailbreak devs have influenced Apple, and really let's face it: Apple's the only one on the block worth being a part of. The quality of their hardware is phenomenal - the only thing wrong with it is that we want evolve faster than Apple is able to. I want my device to look like it's from the year 2055, but I'm not going to wait that long for Apple! The only way for that to be possible is if I jailbreak it. Sure, members of the Dev Team will come and go, but they'll always be around in one form or another. The demand is just too great.
      Well said. However, I would like to make a comment that applies to all of us:

      Although it may be many times 12 year olds rule this community, us older members don't necessarily conduct ourselves in the right way either (not incriminating anyone in particular). The last couple of days, due to the leaked JailbreakMe, I have seen so much hate, disrespectful, and utterly vile behavior from kids and adults alike. They argue over something that is already done and make it a point to argue profusely with the leakers. Here's a few reasons why that is wrong:

      • All the leakers wanted was attention. Don't give them their only wish.
      • Leaking something is wrong. Arguing, calling people names, and acting immaturely is wrong. Don't repay evil for evil and don't fight for the last word. You stoop to the level of those who did the original wrong-doing.
      • The people who did the wrong thing will always try to justify why their actions were right. Your constant name calling, hate, and the like won't change that. Don't spur them on.
      • Why argue with fellow members of the community? One way that will definitely tear us apart is if we're divided. It doesn't matter what the issue is, but drop it. The more you argue and bicker amongst yourselves, the more the Dev-Teams and members of them feel as if no one is truly behind them. Put aside your small and insignificant differences and stand together behind people like comex. Imagine checking your Mentions and seeing every person in this community arguing and tagging you for emphasis?
      • Through all of this, did you see people like comex, i0nic, MuscleNerd, and others lash out and argue with the leakers / people? No. They made the wise choice and realize what is done is done and can't be changed. By moving on and looking ahead, it makes all the efforts of the leakers irrelevant and out of place. Let the leakers crumble in their own demise.


      With that said, even if the community is dominated by 12 year olds, we need to be the example. If we show the example, act accordingly, and encourage others to do the same, people will follow and incidents of this stature will happen less and less (not to mention much smoother).

      Side note: In regards to Twitter, I disagree. Twitter is an art as it forces one to be concise and have the ability to elegantly state what they want to stay in only a few characters. Being concise, wise, and well-said is something everyone should seek.
    1. ronanz's Avatar
      ronanz -
      Based on Stefan's last comment, I for one can't stand the fact most of these kids honestly believe they're entitled to whatever Jailbreak is being worked on - then demand it if it's not released within their timeline. I think Dev Teams should charge for ALL Jailbreaks to eliminate the whining and justify their work...You need a Jailbreak? Then buy it...
    1. mmaboi21's Avatar
      mmaboi21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ronanz View Post
      Based on Stefan's last comment, I for one can't stand the fact most of these kids honestly believe they're entitled to whatever Jailbreak is being worked on - then demand it if it's not released within their timeline. I think Dev Teams should charge for ALL Jailbreaks to eliminate the whining and justify their work...You need a Jailbreak? Then buy it...
      Charging would move jailbreaking to a whole new level. You would have people pirating the software and even more demand for the jailbreak because people would feel if they are paying for it they'd be more entitled to the jailbreak. I've thought of this before but quickly pulled back my thought. I'm not picking bro, just IMO

      Ya know
    1. Joshua Tucker's Avatar
      Joshua Tucker -
      Quote Originally Posted by mmaboi21 View Post
      Charging would move jailbreaking to a whole new level. You would have people pirating the software and even more demand for the jailbreak because people would feel if they are paying for it they'd be more entitled to the jailbreak. I've thought of this before but quickly pulled back my thought. I'm not picking bro, just IMO

      Ya know
      It is however the principle. It is this sense of "entitlement." The jailbreakers / hackers owe us nothing. They are not obligated or are paid to do what they do. For that very reason, the community demanding this and that is wrong. If we were their customers, paid them, and had that connection, then we would have a right to complain if they were not performing according to what our money pays for.
    1. ronanz's Avatar
      ronanz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Joshua Tucker View Post
      It is however the principle. It is this sense of "entitlement." The jailbreakers / hackers owe us nothing. They are not obligated or are paid to do what they do. For that very reason, the community demanding this and that is wrong. If we were their customers, paid them, and had that connection, then we would have a right to complain if they were not performing according to what our money pays for.

      Precisely
    1. mmaboi21's Avatar
      mmaboi21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Joshua Tucker View Post
      It is however the principle. It is this sense of "entitlement." The jailbreakers / hackers owe us nothing. They are not obligated or are paid to do what they do. For that very reason, the community demanding this and that is wrong. If we were their customers, paid them, and had that connection, then we would have a right to complain if they were not performing according to what our money pays for.
      Which is why I don't think it's a good idea to charge. They'd have more money but tons more stress because of the higher demand due to us donating/purchasing towards development. In agreement with you but I think it will make the community fall apart or divided.